Chris Gibbs, right, president and COO, Digital Signage Expo, surveys the trade show floor. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM LAS VEGAS — While touchpoints have been the focus of innovation in digital signage for years, the real trend seems to be 4K resolution on signs of all sizes. Once reserved for newer versions of LED TVs, the higher pixel count is now available on commercial signage and was one of the hot topics at the annual Digital Signage Expo here Feb. 11-13.

Chris Gibbs, who founded Digital Signage Expo 11 years ago and also manages two other events, said this year’s DSE trade show occupied 68,000 net square feet of space, the biggest yet. He noted the “bleeding edge” technology included Intel’s smart vending machines which mix multisensory experiences, such as the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and sounds from a bustling coffee shop, with touchscreen controls that engage shoppers in new ways; or LG’s five-inch card that allows operators to manipulate organic LED displays from an iPad.

“Interactivity has been pushed to levels never seen before,” Gibbs added, noting that signage at eye level is going to be touched, forcing touchpoint technology for a generation of consumers accustomed to walking up and touching digital screens. “Behavior has changed,” he noted.

DSE is chock-full of exhibitors, workshops, keynote speakers, awards and roundtables. Attendance is in the 2,000 range, though an exact count is not yet available for this year. However, it was noted that weather delays due to the storms on the East Coast resulted in more than the usual no-shows. Therefore, the decision was made to move DSE to later in the year, March 10-12, in 2015. Between 10-20 percent of participants at DSE are tied to sport and entertainment venues, according to Geri Wolf, marketer for DSE.

Sports and entertainment roundtables included this one with, clockwise from left, Jordan Fraser, CBS Outdoor, New York; David August, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Toronto; Lawrence Chang, Calgary (Alberta) Telus Convention Centre; Joe Bonanno, International Speedway Corp.; Daniel Person and Joseph Schuldhaus, Triple 5/West Edmonton (Alberta Mall) and Ralph Schorbach, technology manager, Fairplex, Pomona, Calif. (VT Photo)

One roundtable centered on how to sell and maintain all the new products available digitally. Humankind’s changing behavior requires a change in the business model as well, noted Ralph Schorbach, IT Manager, Fairplex, Pomona, Calif., who moderated a roundtable on Managing Digital Signage Diversity at a Large Venue. The roundtable drew representatives from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, International Speedway Corp., Calgary Telus Convention Centre; and Triple5, managers of West Edmonton (Alberta) Mall, Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn., and, coming soon, the American Dream Meadowlands Mall, East Rutherford, N.J. All were at DSE looking for ways to monetize digital signage as well as discover the latest and greatest.

MLSE’s Dave August noted that at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, top of mind is the fact they have an hour to engage 20,000 people. The venue has 400-plus screens with different information. He said it is obvious that dynamic signs result in an uptick in sales, better service and bright points at the venue.

Lawrence Chang, Calgary Telus Convention Centre, said he’s found digital signage at the center pretty much has to be all touch. “Everyone touches the screen,” Schorbach agreed.

Selling digital signage is also an evolving art. August said salespeople need to be retrained, because the inclination is to sell it like TV commercials in 15-second spots. Now there are L-wraps, different applications, varied time increments, time for an individual to interact, a choice of every screen in the building or select screens, and preshow, during show and postshow pricing. Salesmen also need to consider a viral presence versus being in the loop. Packaging is the name of the sales game in digital.

MLSE has also introduced in-arena ticketing upgrades, made possible because of digital options. At some events, those in the arena in $55-$60 seats are offered the option to upgrade for $10-$20, which basically buys them a $200 seat. “It’s a luxury market. Everyone wants to feel important,” August noted.

Round-table participants had various methods of dealing with hardware malfunctions. MLSE has a technician on hand during events, who has spare parts. It’s a “break and fix model,” August said. However, International Speedway Corp. leases its equipment and has manufaturers’ technicians on hand during races. All sports and entertainment venues share the problem of no time to wait when equipment goes down.

August also said MLSE buys commercial grade versus industrial, which is generally half the cost. “We’re not 24/7; we’re not an airport,” he noted. But he would never go to consumer level, because they change the tooling every year; while commercial grade is for professional displays.

The competition for in-venue signage is clearly in-home entertainment, noted Jordan Fraser, brand manager, CBS Outdoor. When pricing his product, he considers high dwell (how long people see the sign) and frequency. August calls it “prime” and “fringe” times, from when the doors open and concourse signs are “prime” to when the event begins and concourse signs are of less value.

THE TRADE SHOW

Mobility was the innovation mentioned by Michael Luttrell, Peerless AV. Peerless provided kiosks for the Philadelphia Eagles which are mounted on hydraulic wheel lifts shrouded by skirts so they can be moved around the stadium with minimal effort, basically the push of a button. The kiosk was used for advertisements and to collect email addresses by luring fans to take photos that were converted into  bobbleheads. Peerless provided the hardware.

Peerless also delivered a field wind-rated monitor that would withstand 90-120 mph winds, all in Green Bay Packers green to Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.

Bryan Chiman, Peerless AV, also demonstrated a new digital menu board mount for touch outdoor displays. The modular menu board solution is cost effective and made in the U.S.A., he noted, and fully sealed for outdoor use. It can also be used for wayfinding displays.

Innovative Visual Group's Happy or Not customer rating system. (VT Photo)

Innovative Visual Group had a new product that made high tech very user-friendly. Mahammed Kazai described a new “Happy or Not” control, which can be placed at cash registers to rate the customer experience in real time. Customers are encouraged to push one of four buttons registering their experiences that day from pleasure to displeasure, depicted by smiling to frowning face buttons, as they wait to check out. Management gets immediate feedback. Kazai said the product is being used in Europe and this showcase was its first deployment in the U.S.

Todd Savitt, Turtle Beach, was promoting HyperSound, a solution to bleeding sound that uses ultrasonic technology to direct audio. The emitter was 12X6 inches and each emitter could limit sound to as little as two square feet. He envisioned it for side-by-side booths and displays at trade shows or entertainment venues.

DynaScan high brightness LED backlit signs, with local dimming, allows signs to be outdoor bright in a window facing out. The 84-inch, 4K, 2500-units display is the company’s newest version, released last week at a trade show in Amsterdam, said Daniel Wheeler, business development manager. The secret is to calibrate the display to daylight white.

NEC was showcasing its Hiperwall, a 3X3 video wall made up of 55-inch screens. The product can be used to stream content as well as cache content on the hard drive, all with 4K support. “It’s a huge wow factor, because everything happens immediately,” said NEC’s Chris Feldman. The company installed one at Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J., he said.

THE VENUE

This year’s show took place at Sands Expo, which has just undergone $37 million in renovations, the biggest investment Executive Director Ashlyn LaPorte has seen in her eight years as leader there. It’s totally justified by booming business, she noted, showing off a calendar that showed the venue solidly booked Jan. 2-April 12. Gensler was the architect for the renovation, which went on during events.

Work included remodeling the lobby space and meeting rooms, opening Sands Expo to the two adjoining hotel casinos – the Venetian and the Palazzo – so that the average customer has a seamless experience going into the convention center from the hotel. Doors separating the venues were removed. The result is more of a resort feel versus a convention center, LaPorte said.

Kim Cooper, assistant director of marketing, and Ashlyn LaPorte, executive diretor of Event Management at Sands Expo & Convention Center, host DSE for the first time. (VT Photo)

Sands Expo is a big property, 2.5 million square feet of convention and conference center, sourrounded by 7,000 hotel suites. It is also “the largest sustainable venue on earth,” LaPorte said. That fact appeals to the staff as much as it does to customers.

Improvements also included new concessions stands and escalators inside the hall. The next improvement will be a $7-million remake of the kitchen, which is 23 years old, she noted.

In the interest of better customer service, they have also introduced a concierge program for exhibitors. “We come to you,” LaPorte noted. “We take our iPads out and go booth to booth, making sure everyone’s needs are met.”

Interviewed for this story: Chris Gibbs, (770) 649-0300; Ralph Schorbach, (909) 865-4130; David August, (416) 815-5400; Ashlyn LaPorte, (702) 733-5611; Daniel Wheeler, (949) 356-1983; Michael Luttrell, (800) 865-2112 X400